The Inevitability of Tomorrow

Submitted into Contest #166 in response to: Set your story at a retirement or leaving party. ... view prompt

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American Sad

Jameson sat in his office and wallowed in his self despair. The department members had come for their slice of cake, made their small talk, and filtered back out to their desks in the common area. He had feigned eating his slice, slowly sliding the plate off of his desk and letting it fall into the trash just a few seconds after digging at it with his plastic fork. The paper cup filled with punch stayed, but he did take the time to top it off with a small flask he kept in the top drawer of his desk. He always found a way to find the quiet moments that allowed him to escape from situations like the one just a few feet away from him.

In those quiet moments, the ones you find when you sit alone in the shadow with nothing around you, save for the dark thoughts that bore their way through your skull and close the tunnels behind them so there was no way for them to escape, those moments are where Jameson secluded himself. He lived a lifetime of these moments and had stopped looking for ways to escape them years ago. Each moment became a small measure of solitude that he could disappear into. But now the solitude had been shattered and the quiet no longer existed. And he sat just as he always had, watching all of these people move past him and pretending to be interested in their conversations. His jaw had started to ache from the pleasantries and imitation smiles that he produced. The pain gnawed its way up his face and nested behind his eyes. Rubbing them never helped, but he did it anyway.

Outside his office door everyone stood around and smiled, laughing at jokes and banalities that gave him the same sick feeling that any stomach virus would’ve conjured. Several times he felt his body lurch and he struggled to maintain his face as he fought against the urge to retch. The more he sat and watched, the more he hated it. His jaw clenched and he forced his teeth back and forth against themselves and the aching behind his eyes began to radiate each time his teeth made the pass. Every few moments someone outside the door would look in and try to wave him out. Jameson stared through them, letting them fade out of sight.

Scattered around his office were the tattered cardboard boxes he dug out of the department’s dumpster on his way in this morning. Their edges were torn and each side sported a stain or smudge of a different shape. All were filled with file folders and plaques, save for one that he was saving for the contents of his desk. There wasn’t much left now. A few scraps of paper and the photo of Mary that occupied the corner of his desk. He stood from the leather chair, feeling the agony of old age bite into his lower back. Its teeth tore into his muscles and in his joints felt as if they hit the bone directly.

The box had started to flake apart in his hands as he lifted it, the scraps fell to the floor and several pieces disintegrated into a coarse powder in his hands. Clearing the desk, he saved Mary for last, placing it gently on top. He looked around and every surface was clear except for a layer of dust that had built up over the years of neglect. His name had once been stamped on the door, but now only “DET” remained. Jameson never found out who’d be replacing him, but he couldn’t help but to dislike them anyway.

He had become too old and unreliable. At least that’s what the disciplinary board had told him. Jameson always blamed the contents of the flask for his forced retirement, he blamed it for Mary leaving him, and he blamed it for anything else he could find to fit the bill. But back in those deep, quiet moments he hated himself for all of it, never admitting fault out loud for the fear it would make it real. Each time those thoughts crept in, he’d drown them and never let them see the light of day. By now he’d drowned them so deep it was impossible to determine which way to swim to get back to them.

A few steps from the door he remember the flask. He placed it in the box next to Mary’s picture and walked out. There was a round of applause, a few yelled “congratulations” and “good luck”. He kept the counterfeit smile on his face and gave a few quick nods to people he didn’t know beyond their last names. No one offered to help with the boxes and knowing that he’d have to walk past them all again several times made him wish that he had done this all the night before.

The pain had dug deep behind his eyes, closer to the back of his skull. Jameson couldn’t help, but gnash his teeth together as the elevator door closed in front of him. Once the doors met, he let his head fall back and exhaled like he had been holding his breath the entire afternoon. For the first time he started to think about tomorrow. Unfortunately he already knew. His day would consist of sitting in a raggedy chair in his 1-bedroom apartment, watching the snowfall through the windows that sat behind the couch. His meals nothing more than small trays of plastic that lived and died in the microwave. And this would be the new routine.

For years, he forced himself to believe that its what he wanted…that he hated the job, the department, and the people inside and wanted nothing more than a life of solitude. And for years he believed it. But now, thinking about tomorrow for the first time, he felt a sickness build in his stomach. Not like the sickness he felt upstairs. It was different now…and reminded him more of the sickness that overtook him when Mary left. It was an odd feeling of uneasiness that rushed over him and through him like an ocean current and started to pull him under the surface, the waves breaking over his head and filling his mouth so he that each breath was pulling more water down on top of him.

Jameson fell back against the wall of the elevator, the box crashing at his feet as his hands pulled a pale blue tie away from his throat. A button from his collared shirt ticked on the floor as it landed and he began to gasp. His nails dug into the flesh covering his throat and he wanted nothing more than to open it and let the air rush back into his lungs. His heart slammed against the inside of his chest and he could hear the rhythmic explosions deep in his head. A sweat broke out over him and as he struggled to find his breath he felt the beads conjoin and create small, salted rivers on his brow that ran into the corners of his eyes.

The salt turned to acid in his eyes and he went back to rubbing them, grinding the edges of his hands as deep as they would go. It only pushed the acid deeper and he felt it slip past the edges of his eyelids.The lights on the small panel ticked down, one number at a time. 6…5…4…3…Jameson focused on his breath, forcing his lungs to slow. The sweat had run down the sides of his neck and saturated his collar, turning it several shades darker than the rest of his shirt. 2…1…G…

The doors opened with a screech and Jameson was standing upright with the box in his hands. A burst of cold air pushed through him freezing the damp areas of his collar almost instantly. A shiver crawled up his spine and landed at the base of his neck. The parking deck had frozen over and small drifts had been building around the edges of the parking deck throughout the day, but each one had grown at least a foot since he arrived that morning.

The old sedan sat there in the garage off on its own, a few spaces in any direction were empty, like there was an invisible barrier that prevented anyone else from parking there. The air was bone chilling and he felt his joints swell. Jameson had been feeling the storm coming for a few days, his joints never told a lie. So today, his last day before retirement, his bones ached regardless of whether or not he moved or stayed still. The air that wrapped around his knuckles and knees weighed a thousand pounds, and he felt each one as the pressure built.

He limped across the garage and watched glow from the street lights kick on and radiate through the small opening that sat right below the ceiling of the garage. It bathed the concrete structure in a green brilliance that sparkled on the ice that had built up along the bottoms of the walls and the small trails of water that had been running in from the openings.

Jameson let the box fall into the passenger seat and listened to the last few cracks of the larger pieces of glass that remained from the photo. A thousand thoughts invaded his head, like soldiers rushing a battlefield, each one a different route that ran through a hundred different locations, but ultimately ending in the same chair facing the window. He sat in the driver’s seat and pulled a crumpled back of cheap cigarettes from the glove compartment, one last thing to try before heading back up.

The filter clung to his lip even as he relaxed his jaw, like it had been resting there for years and had finally grown to be a part of him. A small metallic lighter emerged from his pocket, catching the green radiance in the air and sending it back out. The small, flickering flame took its first breath and steadily grew until it swallowed the small slices of tobacco that sat freely in the end of the paper. Jameson pulled on the cigarette, letting the hand and lighter fall to his side, and felt the heaviness of the smoke as it ran down into his lungs. He held it for as long as he could before letting the murky air flow out and form a thick cloud that hung in front of his face before dispersing into the car.

He hated the thought of going back inside to collect the rest of the boxes and the dread began to build in his gut again. Jameson pictured their vain laughs and crooked smiles as another cloud billowed from his lips. He thought of how everyone would stare as he carried the boxes past them, feeling their silent judgments build around him. It was all a sham…the party filled with people he didn’t speak with, the cheap cake that came from the local grocery store, the entire fabricated production. But even now, as he sat in the smoke filled air, he knew it sounded better than tomorrow. He hated himself for even considering that.

The walk back to the elevator was cold and bitter and bit at the exposed flesh on his neck and face. The elevator ride back to the 7th floor was just as bitter and felt much quicker sweat drenched ride down. The doors opened, giving the same metallic whimper that it had for years, and everyone had gone back to work. The last few slices of cake sat at the top of the trash can that sat at the end of the row of desks, the once hovering balloons hung lower in the air, several were only a few inches from the floor. No one looked up. Jameson let the doors close in front of him and left to face tomorrow for the first time.

October 04, 2022 02:02

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